“You certainly have a way with words… when you take your time,” my 11th grade US History teacher said as he handed my paper on Hemingway back to me, a big red “A” scrawled on top.
Writing has always been my thing. It’s as natural to me as drawing air into my lungs. I discovered the transformative power of journaling at an early age, filling page after page of cheap spiral bound notebooks with both the mundane and the significant events of my life. I’ve written love letters, hundreds of LiveJournal entries, and one slightly ridiculous poem about sugar cubes. I’m often not sure how I feel about something until the words are flowing through my pen. Words are my super power.
unknown landscape, 4″ x 6″. Shot and printed sometime in college, probably 2005.
I’m quite certain my journal literally saved my life the year I was 20, the year my anxiety caught up with me and I was drowning in depression. My mental state was roughly equal to the surface tension of water. I couldn’t turn off the tears, I’d lay on my bed in a ball and imagined myself sinking into the mattress and then disappearing completely. I didn’t want to die, but I didn’t want to be here anymore. Practically every night I dreamt about something horrible and unspeakable happening to one of my five siblings. It was the most desperation I have ever felt in my entire life and I never want to go back to that place (my thoughts from that time still terrify me on a truly primal level). My journal then was an anchor made of paper, the thing that kept me rooted in place, the thing that allowed me to occasionally pull up for air from the darkest depths while my brain healed itself with therapy and medication. And time.
But gradually, I stopped writing as much. Life became full with graduate school, and full-time employment, and a man who knew how to love me even when I was having a full-blown panic attack in our bathroom. My brain wasn’t telling me as many lies, not going haywire over every perceived danger. I still kept up my journals, but I would go weeks between entries. There are many things that happened that I did not even give a cursory mention.
Although writing has been my gig since I left my library job at the end of 2012, I have not been taking my time. I’ve been writing, but not my own stories. Not the stories that matter, not the things that help me make sense of where and who I am and how I even got to this place.
I signed up for Known, a creative storytelling workshop with Coffee + Crumbs, because my creativity has been at all time low, because I’m starting to forget what it feels like to be anything other than a wife and mom. I love being those things; my husband and son are my everything. But I know there’s more depth to me than that.
Since the workshop started earlier this month, I’ve filled pages and pages of my journal with notes from the weekly lessons. And I’ve written, a tsunami of words. I’ve written about a loss I’ve never shared and the boy who had my heart when I was eighteen, and what it feels like now, to be 32.
I forgot what this felt like.
Of being exhausted not because my insomnia is back (again) but because I’d been writing after I put the baby to bed and couldn’t turn it off, memories of things that happened over a decade ago suddenly flooding back like it happened yesterday. Of feeling buoyant because I was putting my words out into the universe instead of letting them weigh down my heart and clog up my brain. Of the satisfaction that I’d made something today other than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, cut into tiny squares.
This is what it feels like to practice my craft. I pour another cup of coffee and I keep going, taking my time.
The stories of our own lives require active searching—learning to look through our memories in a new way. To find story in your life, you must engage imagination with memory; you must invent a line of continuity—not from nothing, but from the raw materials of your life. It’s like reading a pattern in DNA or figuring out the possible anagrams in a word. To find story in your life, you have to know what you’re looking for.
Tristine Rainer, Your Life as Story
There are a lot of things to love about breastfeeding, but one thing I didn’t particularly care for was just how much time I spent doing it at the beginning. A fellow Stroller Strides mama is expecting her second baby any day. I wanted to give her something I knew she would use. I remembered how much I loved having some essentials close at hand, like a glass of water and lip balm, when I was in the middle of a marathon nursing session with my own newborn, so I whipped up this little breastfeeding nursing basket for her.
Here’s what I included in the breastfeeding nursing basket:
- a set of 3 burp cloths (handmade by me), perfect for wiping up spit-up, milk dribbles, and leaky boobs
- newborn Gumdrop pacifiers, for replacing baby’s human pacifier when he falls asleep nursing
- hand sanitizer, to keep germs at bay
- Lansinoh lanolin, because it heals everything from cracked nipples and chapped lips to baby’s dry skin
- a few Luna bars, because you’ve never known hunger like the hunger you experience at 3 am nursing a newborn
- EOS lip balm, because nothing dries you out like nursing
- hand lotion, see above
- Mason jar tumbler (literally a Mason jar plus a Sip and Straw lid from Ball), since hydration is so important for keeping up a strong milk supply
As long as she has her iPhone handy, she should be all set for cluster feeding!
This basket was fun to put together; it might become my go-to baby shower gift. For a first time mom, I would also add a copy of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding, both of which are fantastic resources for any just about any breastfeeding issues you might come across.
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I whipped up this DIY felt birthday crown last week. It’s for a little boy, G, who’s turning one soon and celebrating with a Very Hungry Caterpillar birthday party.
The pattern is from Amanda Soule’s The Creative Family: How to Encourage Imagination and Nurture Family Connections and it’s a very quick project. Wool felt is always so much fun to work with, and I love the way this turned out.
There’s a bit of elastic in the back, so the crown should fit for many more birthdays.
Next up: a birthday crown for my own soon-to-be one-year-old.
I finished up Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child last week, somewhere between Texas and Tokyo. I found myself tearing up at the end, even though I should have expected the book to end with her death (how else do you end the biography of someone who is deceased?). It’s a hefty tome (I opted to buy a copy for my nook) but extremely well-written and overall a delicious read.
By all accounts, Julia Child’s life was, well, remarkable. I was in awe of the career she created for herself. As I approached the end of the book (and her life), I started to think about what “life lessons” Julia could impart.
Julia Child didn’t even start cooking until she was 32. She started teaching (informally) at 39. Despite a somewhat late start in discovering her passion, she transformed it into an incredibly successful career. It’s easy to assume we won’t succeed at something because we haven’t been doing it since age 7 or weren’t an “early adopter” (I feel that way about blogging sometimes). While there is some truth to that (see: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell), I think Julia’s staggering accomplishments show that’s not always the case. Sometimes it is true passion that makes the difference.
Her first cookbook, what became Mastering the Art of French Cooking, was the result of ten long years of work. Julia tested recipes over and over again to make sure they were perfect and left no room for error. I’m sure she might have been tempted to just give up at some point- she was working herself to the bone and sometimes wondered if the cookbook would ever be complete. However, she truly believed in her end goal: to bring French cooking to America. And it worked.
When her husband (and best friend) suffered a debilitating stroke and began to require more of her attention and energy, Julia found a way to make it work (I think Tim Gunn would approve). She could have grudgingly accepted her need to be a caregiver and abandoned the career she wasn’t ready to give up, but she didn’t. She knew that self-pity wasn’t going to help her career or restore her husband’s health. Instead, she figured out how to get her husband around their house on his own and enlisted friends to work with her on the TV show and her current cookbook.
Julia is said to have “felt like a teenager” when she was working. She didn’t want to give it up, even as she drifted into her 80s. It provided solace when her husband became ill, expanded her social circle (she enjoyed spending time with her younger assistants), and certainly kept her young– let’s face it, most people don’t live to be 92 or work well into our late 80s.
Julia hated it when women apologized for dinner not being ready on time or not being perfect. She felt it ruined the social aspect of a good meal. In fact, she herself served inedible meals and didn’t apologize. If something doesn’t work out as you had planned, pick up the pieces and move on. But don’t apologize.
Her director and long-time friend Russ Morash is quoted in the book as saying, “Moving ahead was how she dealt with life.” Even if one of her projects was not well-recieved (and there were a few that weren’t), she didn’t dwell on it or get discouraged from trying something else. What would be the point in that? We can’t all be 100% all the time. It should always be about today, tomorrow and the next big thing you are going to accomplish. Even if one project is a flop, it doesn’t mean the next one won’t be a raging success.
Julia was 6’2″, had a warbly voice and wasn’t conventionally pretty. You’d think that all of these would preclude a successful TV career, but her approachability actually made her career. Her viewers identified with her, which was pretty critical when you’re trying to convince people that they, too, can master French cooking. If you feel you have a weakness, think of a way to spin it to your advantage.